From Medic (1954-55) to St. Elsewhere: a behind-the-scenes look at how hospital/ doctor prime-time TV shows have been...


PLAYING DOCTOR: Television, Medicine, and American Culture

From Medic (1954-55) to St. Elsewhere: a behind-the-scenes look at how hospital/ doctor prime-time TV shows have been created, and how societal mores and sponsors, the medical establishment, and other special-interest groups have influenced them. Turow (Communications/Purdue) interviewed a number of TV executives, writers, producers, and stars, and in a sprightly fashion he details the history of over a dozen medical series from story-concept and research to final episode, laying bare the conflicts, compromises, frustrations, personality quirks, crises, and so on that made the shows what they were. Early series--e.g., Medic, Dr. Kildare; and Ben Casey--were filmed in hospitals, in return for which the AMA, ever alert to the threat of ""socialized medicine,"" reviewed scripts to make sure that the fee-based doctor-patient relationship remained sacrosanct and that the doctor-heroes presented a proper image. (Attempts to tone down Vince Edwards' swaggering, sexy Dr. Casey met with little success.) In those days, advertisers and the networks imposed a number of taboos: cancer, aspirin overdose, V.D., abortion, and the use of black actors as interns. Medic ran afoul of the Catholic Church, which claimed that an episode showing an actual Caesarean delivery was ""part of sex education"" and hence unacceptable; a number of affiliated stations refused to air it. In the 1970's, shows like M*A*S*H and later Trapper John, M.D. and St. Elsewhere were irreverent, freewheeling, and willing to tackle formerly taboo material. In 1974, even staid Marcus Welby, M.D. had a show featuring a teen-age boy who'd been raped by a male teacher. (This cost the show several sponsers because of gay activist outrage.) A lively, anecdotal, well-researched study that should appeal strongly to media and medical personnel, and to TV buffs.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1988


Page Count: -

Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1988